1.16.2020
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Leads Global Litigation Network to Protect Civic Space

In functioning democracies, individuals and members of civic groups freely engage in dialogue about their community’s social, political, and economic issues and play a role in crafting policies that affect their lives. The protection of civic space is crucial in affording journalists, opposition groups, and social action organizations sufficient opportunity to exercise their rights to register dissent, hold leaders accountable, and speak truth to power. 

Just 4 percent of the world’s population lives in a country where peaceful civic activism is fully protected, according to CIVICUS’ estimates. Elsewhere, in countries ranging from Colombia to Nigeria, political leaders have recently imposed more restrictions that keep people from exercising their civic rights through censorship, arbitrary detention, intimidation and harassment, criminalization, and excessive use of force.

These widespread repressive and authoritarian attacks on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association require a strong and strategic global response. To combat this disturbing trend, in November 2019 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights co-launched with the Vuka! Coalition for Civic Action a new task force of advocacy groups that will pursue strategic litigation aimed at protecting crucial civic freedoms around the world. Member organizations will use emblematic cases as vehicles for bringing about broad, far-reaching structural change.

The new network, called the Strategic Litigation Action Team, is mapping emblematic civic space cases around the world and developing an action plan to reclaim civic space around the world. The Strategic Litigation Action Team will support organizations around the world by participating in strategically selected legal cases, chosen for their potential to provide critical protections to the exercise of such freedoms. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights will co-chair the body, along with another organization. By participating on the action team, litigants and experts will be able to better collaborate and provide technical assistance on cases presented to national, regional, and international human rights courts and mechanisms. The action team might, for example, provide technical workshops on legal cases, develop new resources for litigators, or submit amicus briefs. 

The formation of the Strategic Litigation Action Team is the latest project of the Vuka! Coalition for Civic Action, an alliance of more than 160 national, regional, and international organizations that are working together to combat the recent crackdown on civic space around the world. This diverse coalition is made up of a wide range of civil society organizations, including women’s groups, social movement action committees, labor syndicates, and humanitarian and development groups. Members of the Steering Group include Greenpeace International, Oxfam Novib, the American Bar Association’s Justice Defenders, the African Center for Human Rights and Democracy Studies, and Front Line Defenders. CIVICUS serves as the Vuka! Secretariat.

Learn more about ways to support the work of the Strategic Litigation Action Team by emailing advocacy@rfkhumanrights.org.